Parenting an athlete. Sounds fun and simple, right? Just get them to practice on time, eat well, sleep enough and cheer them on from the stands. . . hah, yeah. Unfortunately, in today’s athletic culture, parenting an athlete is anything but simple. Sports are inherently emotional for both the athlete and their support system—a.k.a. you, Mom and Dad.
“What should I do after my kid’s game?” is by far the question I get most often from the parents of the athletes I work with. The reality is that what you say after a game can either build your athlete up—or set them back.
So often, parents who are highly enthusiastic and well-meaning lack the knowledge of how to control their emotions and determine where “the line” is of what to say and not to say after a game. That’s especially true after an athlete’s sub-par performance.
You want to be fun, focused, and supportive. So let’s use a hypothetical situation of a baseball game. Say your athlete was a starting pitcher. He struck out a handful of batters and displayed a nice curve ball; however, he made a couple of fielding errors and cost his team the winning run.
Say this athlete tends to be hard on himself when he makes mistakes and is visibly unhappy with parts of his performance. Depending on the type of sports parent, reactions can vary widely to this situation. Here are my suggestions for dealing with it.
Take Time to Process the Game Before Discussing It
I always advise both parents and players to take some time to process emotions after a performance before evaluating. What a parent can say is how much they enjoyed watching or how good of an effort the athlete showed (more on this later). Sports parents are highly invested in their athletes and are often as emotional or more emotional than their child, so this allows time for both to calm down before discussion. This does wonders for your relationship with your child as well.
Be Mindful of What You Say
Speaking of emotions, watching what you say is only half the battle. I suggest parents watch their body language as well. I’m sure you’ve seen “that dad” whose body language resembles a jungle cat ready to pounce on whomever provokes him. Threatening posture generally does nothing but cause an athlete to shut down, so monitoring not just words but what you do is highly advised. A simple tip is to monitor the tension you feel while watching the game, especially when an error is made. Make it a point to relax and enjoy yourself regardless of the result. This can go a long way and make for a more positive postgame.
Point Out the Positive Aspects of Their Performance
What to say is often a question I get from parents. I once asked one of my athletes what they wanted to hear after they play, and she simply stated, “Anything supportive.” Whether your athlete went 4-for-4 or 0-for-4, pointing out positives or successes helps build (or rebuild) confidence. In a results-oriented culture, it’s easy to get caught up in numbers, but applauding effort, regardless of the score, also instills confidence. What you say is powerful.
Separate Your Goals From Those of Your Athlete
In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to separate your own goals for your athletes from the goals they have set for themselves. Athletes who have intrinsic motivation and a good support system usually discover and travel the path they have set for themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask what your child’s goals are and why. This is great bonding, and it helps with accountability from the athlete. Helping your child determine his or her “why” for playing is a powerful way to positively influence his or her athletic career. When emotion takes over and you want to give your child feedback, think about your “why” versus your child’s “why.”
Dealing with the postgame with your child is never easy. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect and that mistakes will happen. Don’t be afraid to ask your child what they need to hear or not hear. Tuning in to your child and finding what works comes from solid communication and being a strong team.